fallen, in the forest

Las acacias dir. Pablo Giorgelli (2011, 82′)

If ever a notion of writing formulated while drunk and likely brandishing a firearm sparked a radical change in the way stories are told, it would have to be Hemingway’s ‘iceberg theory.’ In an interview with George Plimpton for The Paris Review, Hemingway describes his approach as a series of well-chosen omissions:

I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg. It is the part that doesn’t show. If a writer omits something because he does not know it then there is a hole in the story.

I haven’t seen or read anything in the past few years that puts this idea to better practice than Pablo Giorgelli’s exquisite first film, Las acacias (2011). The darling of festivals from Cannes (where it won the Caméra d’Or) to London’s BFI (Best First Film), via the eight or so others that named it their Best Picture, Las acacias has been garnering its well-deserved share of critical attention. Its plot is fairly straightforward: Rubén, who drives a truck for a man named Fernando, has been told to take a load of acacia wood and a woman named Jacinta across the Paraguayan border and into Buenos Aires. He does this, and the movie ends.

Of course, what is omitted from this summary is the stuff of the film itself. Like the fact that Jacinta shows up with her five-month-old daughter, and that Rubén nearly leaves them on the side of the road once they cross into Argentina. And then, of course, there is everything that goes unsaid yet is still vitally present; despite the sparsity of the dialogue, we come to know a remarkable amount about the film’s two central figures. Without any of this being explicitly conveyed, we know that Jacinta occasionally exercises poor judgement when it comes to men, and that Rubén has long since given up on mending his broken relationship with his son. We also know that he is starting to peg his last hope for happiness on a stranger and her baby.

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the road not taken

It’s no secret that I’m terrible with directions. It takes me an inordinately long time to orient myself in a new city, particularly one not organized around a numbered grid, à la New York. But it was a surprise even to me that I managed to get lost inside a building on my way to an academic conference last week.

In my own defense, the structure in question – the Centro Cultural Borges – is as labyrinthine as its name would suggest: in addition to its multiple entryways and escalators that only go to certain wings, I happened to stumble in during the festival of Indian culture, the brightly colored fabrics and silvery trinkets of which turned the Center’s halls into a vertigo-inducing kaleidoscope. When I finally did find the main rotunda, the conference had long since begun, so I did what any responsible person would do under the circumstances. I bagged it, and decided to poke my head into a gallery or two.

Next door to what appeared to be the opening reception of a show of U.S. rock photography, a black and white image on the far wall of a starkly lit and virtually empty room caught my eye. Even from a distance, it had a disconcerting, oneiric quality; up close, its complex texture and manipulation of perspective made it hard to believe that I wasn’t looking at a photo-realist painting. In the foreground, the crisp folds of the riders’ clothing and the mottling of the horses’ haunches stand in stark contrast to the blurred movement of the dogs that flank them. Time, as reflected by the camera’s shutter, is fractured somewhere between the two. In the background, the needles of a lone conifer at the center of the frame are at once sharply defined and veiled in haze, while the two horses grazing side by side behind it appear to occupy two entirely different planes; depth of field is, here, a pliable notion.


The image, captured by Emmanuel Ortiz (b.1961, Argentina) after the eruption at Chaiten in 2008, is part of “Sendas” (“Paths”), a show of the photographer’s work from the past ten years. The exhibit is well suited to its name: each of the nearly fifty prints on display invokes the idea of a path carved out either literally or metaphorically by man and nature. There is the layer of ash that settled on one of the main dirt roads outside of Chaiten that, as it mixed with the falling rain, paved its surface in concrete (again, this dance with time: the simulacrum of progress, indistinguishable from the destructive force that produced it). Then there are the more abstract, though nonetheless physical, variations on the theme: surfaces whose texture once – but no longer – presented an obstacle to their crossing. The Japanese town reduced to rubble in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami; the coast of La Coruña looking like a vast expanse of asphalt after a storm, the difference between sand and sea almost imperceptible following the 2002 oil spill in the region.

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